Speed Development

Speed is a critical component of success for any field-based athlete. Whether you take part in football, rugby, or athletics, being able to cover ground quickly gives you a distinct advantage over your opponents. If you’re looking to improve your speed, you’ve come to the right place. Here we’ll discuss various techniques, drills, and exercises that can help you develop speed and take your performance to the next level.

But first, what is speed?

Speed is the product of stride length and stride frequency, which are both influenced by various physiological and biomechanical factors. Understanding the science behind speed development can help athletes optimize their training and reach their full potential.

What impacts speed?

Muscle Fiber Composition

Skeletal muscles are composed of two main types of muscle fibers: type I (slow-twitch) and type II (fast-twitch). Type I fibers are more suited for endurance activities, while type II fibers are designed for quick, explosive movements. Athletes with a higher proportion of type II fibers tend to be faster. While genetics plays a role in determining muscle fiber composition, targeted training can help increase the proportion of fast-twitch fibers and improve overall speed.

Muscle Strength and Power

Speed development relies heavily on an athlete’s ability to generate force and power during each stride. Stronger muscles can generate more force, leading to longer and faster strides. Strength training exercises, such as squats and lunges, can increase muscle strength, while plyometric exercises can enhance muscle power and explosiveness.

Neuromuscular Efficiency

The nervous system plays a crucial role in controlling muscle activation and coordinating movement patterns. Developing neuromuscular efficiency can lead to better intermuscular coordination, increased stride frequency, and faster reaction times. Plyometric training, agility drills, and technique work can help improve neuromuscular efficiency.


Proper running mechanics are essential for maximizing speed and minimizing energy expenditure. Biomechanical factors, such as stride length, stride frequency, foot strike, and arm swing, all contribute to overall speed. Athletes should focus on maintaining an upright posture, driving their knees forward, landing on the midfoot, and using their arms to maintain balance and rhythm. Working with a coach or utilizing video analysis can help identify and correct biomechanical inefficiencies.

Energy System Development

Three primary energy systems contribute to an athlete’s performance: the aerobic system, the anaerobic glycolytic system, and the ATP-PC (adenosine triphosphatephosphocreatine) system. Each system provides energy at different rates and durations, with the ATP-PC system being the primary source for short bursts of speed. Training to develop these energy systems can improve an athlete’s ability to sustain high-intensity efforts, such as sprinting or rapid changes in direction.

Flexibility and Mobility

Proper flexibility and mobility allow for a greater range of motion and more efficient movement patterns. Limited flexibility can hinder stride length and speed, while poor mobility can negatively impact joint function and stability. Incorporating dynamic stretching and mobility exercises into a training regimen can help athletes maintain and improve their flexibility and mobility, ultimately contributing to speed development.

Speed development is a multifaceted process that requires a comprehensive approach to training. By understanding the science behind speed and focusing on muscle fiber composition, muscle strength

How to develop speed

Developing speed as a field-based athlete involves a combination of targeted exercises, drills, and proper technique. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you improve your speed and overall athletic performance:

  • Warm-up and Stretching: Begin each training session with a proper warm-up and dynamic stretching routine. This prepares your body for exercise, increases blood flow to your muscles, and reduces the risk of injury.
  • Strength Training: Incorporate functional strength training exercises into your routine to target the muscles used in running and jumping. Focus on exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and power cleans. Aim for 2-3 strength training sessions per week.
  • Plyometrics: Include plyometric exercises in your training to improve explosive power and neuromuscular coordination. Examples of plyometric exercises are box jumps, bounds, and single-leg hops. Perform these exercises 1-2 times per week.
  • Sprint Drills: Sprinting drills help improve stride frequency and technique. Some popular drills include high knees, A-skips, B-skips, and leg cycling. Incorporate sprint drills into your routine 1-2 times per week.
  • Agility Drills: Agility drills enhance your ability to change direction quickly and efficiently. Ladder drills, shuttle runs, and cone drills can improve your footwork, balance, and coordination.
  • Technique Work: Focus on proper running mechanics, such as maintaining an upright posture, driving your knees forward, landing on the midfoot, and using your arms to maintain balance and rhythm. Work with a coach or use video analysis to identify and correct biomechanical inefficiencies.
  • Energy System Development: Train your energy systems to improve your ability to sustain high-intensity efforts. Incorporate interval training, tempo runs, and hill sprints into your routine to target the aerobic and anaerobic systems.
  • Flexibility and Mobility: Improve your flexibility and mobility through dynamic stretching and mobility exercises. This can lead to better movement patterns, greater stride length, and increased speed.
  • Recovery and Nutrition: Proper recovery and nutrition are essential for optimal performance. Get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and hydrate to support muscle repair and growth.
  • Consistency and Patience: Speed development takes time and consistent effort. Set realistic goals, monitor your progress, and make adjustments to your training as needed. With dedication and perseverance, you’ll see improvements in your speed and athletic performance.

Studies and Further Reading

 Below are some studies and articles that support the points made in the post above. These studies explore various aspects of speed development, such as muscle fiber composition, strength training, plyometrics, neuromuscular efficiency, biomechanics, energy system development, and flexibility.


Costill, D. L., Fink, W. J., & Pollock, M. L. (1976). Muscle fiber composition and enzyme

activities of elite distance runners. Medicine and Science in Sports, 8(2), 96-100.


Blazevich, A. J., & Jenkins, D. G. (2002). Effect of the movement speed of resistance

training exercises on sprint and strength performance in concurrently training elite

junior sprinters. Journal of Sports Sciences, 20(12), 981-990.


Markovic, G., & Mikulic, P. (2010). Neuro-musculoskeletal and performance adaptations

to lower-extremity plyometric training. Sports Medicine, 40(10), 859-895.


Weyand, P. G., Sternlight, D. B., Bellizzi, M. J., & Wright, S. (2000). Faster top running

speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements.

Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(5), 1991-1999.


McGowan, C. J., Pyne, D. B., Thompson, K.G., & Rattray, B. (2015). Warm-up strategies for

sport and exercise: Mechanisms and applications. Sports Medicine, 45(11), 1523-1546.

Behm, D. G., & Chaouachi, A. (2011). A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic

stretching on performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(11), 2633-2651.